Toby and Kelly’s phantom foot injuries

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Weeks apart, Toby and Kelly both managed to scare me half to death thinking that their feet were bleeding.  I’m sure unintentionally, they taught me a good lesson about how to respond to a medical emergency, whether real or perceived.

Toby took the first round, I had just put a plate of cucumber mush into their cage, she hopped on the plate, and then jumped back off.  As she bounced around the cage I saw a bright red, wet dot on her toe!  Now, mind you I have no idea how a parakeet could cut their foot on a plate of grated cucumber mush, but if anyone was going to find a way it would be Toby.  That girl trips all over her own feet every day.

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Anyway, I immediately went to level 10 on the panic scale, like most parakeet owners, I’ve heard the statistic that ‘keets can die from losing just 12 drops of blood, and this looked like bit fat drop number 1! I yelled out to my husband that he needed to come immediately because Toby’s foot was bleeding, he leapt off the couch and joined me in the kitchen and reminded me that I should grab my Styptic Powder from our 1st aid kit. I was literally in such a state I don’t know if I would have gotten that far, so much for being calm in a crisis!

I grabbed the powder and ripped open the package, quickly reading the directions as I went.  But, as my initial panic was fading, I noticed that the drop of blood hadn’t changed on Toby’s foot, or fallen off or anything, which seemed pretty suspicious.

Pointing it out to Patrick, we decided that since she wasn’t in immediate danger of exsanguinating we should get her to wash her foot off and see what the heck was going on.  I poured a shallow dish of water and we lured her in to splash around with some millet.

As soon as she hopped in the water the red dot floated away and there was nothing at all wrong with her toe underneath!  Huge sigh of relief, but what the heck was it in the first place??  I poured out some of their food on a white piece of paper and noticed that here and there were tiny pieces of something red which were clearly the culprit!  It makes so much sense now, that she got her foot wet in the cucumber and then, hopping onto the papered floor of their cage, got a small bit of discarded food stuck to her toe!  It just happened to be colored for maximum bird mommy panic.

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possible offenders

 

Sidebar, the reason I’m so susceptible to thinking their feet are damaged is because Toby and Kelly both have a tendency to bite each other’s feet. No one HAS ever actually drawn blood, but if someone’s feet look bloody that’s where my mind goes immediately and it feels so plausible.

Next up, several weeks later, was Kelly.  I had just woken them up for the day and saw a dried-looking patch of red on her foot that I simply could not explain.

I can proudly say I reacted with somewhat less panic, but did call Patrick over and instead of grabbing the styptic we first went for the plate of water and millet trick.  She happily splashed around for a few moments and the red splotch faded, to my great relief.

Then I remembered that I had fed her strawberries for the first time the previous evening and it looked like a total bloodbath!  I didn’t notice any stains on her foot at the time, but I had noticed the tip of her tail and her head had a couple of red marks, so I must have just missed the foot splash.

The lesson learned here, for me, is twofold.  First it reinforces how important it is to have first aid supplies on hand.  But second, and most important, it reminds me that keeping a level head and assessing a situation before reacting with any rash treatment is so important.  I’m relieved that I didn’t treat them with anything they didn’t actually need, even though delaying to assess the (perceived) damage made for some tense moments!

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strawberry bloodbath

PetSmart

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Facts about parakeet hearing and how it impacts life in the home

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Similar to eyesight, parakeets have a really fantastic sense of hearing in ways that differ from humans.  The most noticeable difference is that you may never see your parakeet’s ears, since they are internal, versus the human’s exterior ear.  Perhaps if your parakeet takes a really thorough bath you might glimpse their ear holes, but I’ve never seen them on either of my budgies!

All of the research I’ve done indicates that parakeets can hear roughly the same range of sounds as humans, maybe a little better, but this doesn’t explain to me why Toby and Kelly will spend hours flock calling to birds outdoors that I can only faintly hear, or would have to go outside to hear.

What may be a factor is their relationship to sound, they have much more perfect pitch than I do, and they can store sound in their memory more effectively than I can.  (*source www.little featheredbuddies.com).

Their proficiency at memorizing sounds in sequence helps them learn to mimic human speech and snippets of music, or in the wild to learn calls that are specific to them and other birds.  There is evidence that parrot parents name their children with specific sounds and that those sounds are used for that parrot for their entire life.

I read anecdotal evidence once that suggested this talent could extend to pet parakeets.  A woman named Laura had a single male parakeet with an incredibly large vocabulary – she decided to get him a friend and introduced a second parakeet, which she did not name. A short while later, she found that her first parakeet had begun calling the new friend “Laura” while preening her or snuggling at night. It’s touching to think that the male parakeet loved his owner so much that he named his new friend after her. Although I suppose it’s equally possible he just didn’t know any other names, it’s still pretty good evidence that he had a concept of naming. (I will keep trying to find the link to this story again, I haven’t been able to and I apologize that it’s not credited.)

My female parakeets have zero interest in mimicking human speech or most sounds they hear.  When Kelly came home she had some new noises that Toby hadn’t heard, but instead of adding each other’s sounds to their lexicons they settled somewhere in the middle and now we can’t tell the two of them apart by their calls.  I wonder if it’s because they are so solidly a flock that they have their own agreed upon language of sounds.

I know that they make the same call frequently, and with varying degrees of urgency.  When Toby and Kelly are playing in different places they will call out to each other every so often to touch base. If one doesn’t respond the other calls louder or goes to find them.  When my husband or I go to the bathroom sometimes one of the budgies will get anxious and start calling to us, if we don’t come back or respond they do the same thing and come to find us and make sure we are okay.  For me, that’s wonderful proof that we are part of their flock too, even if we don’t speak the same language!

Parakeets can also be easily startled by loud or unexpected noises, so that’s something to watch out for, especially with new parakeets in the home that may be spooked already, it’s nice to keep things quiet and relaxed for them.  This probably relates back to their lives in the wild as prey, it would certainly be beneficial to be on your guard and ready to escape from danger.  Another way this links back to eyesight is after dark it’s especially important not to scare them with loud noises, since they can’t reassure themselves that everything is okay using their eyes.

There are a lot of ways that you can engage your parakeet using their sense of hearing that are fun for both of you, and even if they never mimic a single sound it’s still enriching to expose them to new sounds and sound patterns.  Have fun exploring new music with your parakeets, maybe you’ll end up having the same favorite song 🙂

Click here to read our post about parakeet eyesight

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Facts about a parakeet’s sense of sight & how you can use them to your advantage

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You may know some of the basics about a parakeet’s sight and eyes, but do you know how you can use this information to help bond with your budgies?

  • Parakeets have very sharp vision, superior to humans. As prey animals this would help them watch out for anything that’s ready to attack. Because their eyes are on the sides of their head they can’t really see directly ahead of them, but they do get a much better wide view. At home, you may notice your parakeet looks at you or whatever it’s focused on with just one eye. This is particularly noticeable when they drop something and tilt their heads to watch it fall.
  • Parakeets can also see ultraviolet light, which we cannot. This means that they see lots of stuff we don’t, particularly in regards to color. It helps them decide who to mate with by looking at which parakeet has the best and most vibrant feathers. Since they don’t have a very keen sense of smell or taste they can also detect which fruits and vegetables are rotten and which are good to eat by sight.  This probably explains why your parakeets would have an aversion to certain colors or patterns; they could just be way too intense. Some folks think that parakeets amazing UV sight also allows them to sense what mood their humans are in, almost like seeing an aura. I know that when I come in from work angry my parakeets react to me differently, and I completely believe that they are reading my energy somehow.  Being aware of your energy when you approach your parakeets can really help your interactions with them.
  • Your parakeet’s eyes change in appearance as he matures. Baby and juvenile parakeets have fully black eyes, with no detectable iris ring around the edges. As your parakeet grows up, you’ll see the iris start to come in very faintly at first, and then over time it becomes lighter and more prominent.  A caveat is that some color mutations do not ever develop the visible iris – also color mutations Albino, Creamino and Lutino are born with red eyes.  But, most of the time it’s an excellent way to help judge the age of a parakeet.  Toby is almost two years old and it’s so neat to see how her eyes are developing over time!
  • Once the parakeet’s iris becomes visible it will be easy to see their eyes “pin” or “flash” – this is when the parakeet’s eyes rapidly dilate and contract. We humans don’t have control over our eyes dilating, it happens in response to light.  Parakeets dilate their pupils at will.  Eye pinning is really one of the most helpful ways that you can understand what your parakeet is feeling, they typically do it when they are excited, happy, curious, and/or see something that they like a whole lot. Some do it when they are feeling aggressive and angry, although I have rarely seen it in that context. It may look a bit off-putting or totally unnatural at first, but now that we are accustomed to Toby pinning her eyes it is really so helpful in knowing how she’s feeling and whether she’s excited about, for instance, a piece of fruit or a potential scritch of the neck.
  • Another fantastic way you can use your eyes to communicate to a parakeet is “blinking” them. Early on when we were trolling for baby parakeets at Petsmart, Patrick realized that if he shut his eyes, all of the parakeets would grow calm and start falling asleep. Because they are so instinctually part of a flock, if one parakeet closes its eyes and relaxes they all tend to follow suit. This is useful if your parakeet becomes scared or panicked, you can help them relax by shutting your eyes and relaxing.  Also when you are taming them, when you cast your gaze downward it is less threatening for them. Close your eyes and lower your head and you will seem even less like a predator.  Now I’ve noticed that Toby and Kelly will try to put us to sleep if they don’t want to play with us.  Toby will shut the eye facing me very decisively and then wait a few seconds and open it just a slit to see if my eye is shut.  Mind you the eye on the other side of the head is wide open and ready for action; she is just tired of dealing with “mom”.
  • Also, making eye contact with a parakeet will typically open a line of communication and an engagement. In the early days they may feel safer if you don’t make a lot of eye contact, because they don’t know your intentions. Now, however, if I walk by Toby and Kelly’s cage and don’t look their way they will go about their business, but if Toby and I make eye contact she immediately rushes over to the side of the cage and becomes very excited to tap her beak on my fingernails. So, if I’m hustling out the door and I’m late it’s much better to call out “bye” and breeze out instead of stopping and getting trapped in an endless cycle of adorability.  Conversely, if I want to hang out and they are busy at play I make an effort to engage in eye contact and they will usually come over to where I am to see what’s going on.
  • As amazing as parakeet eyesight is during the day it is terrible at night. This is part of why they are susceptible to night terrors, any small movement that is detected will be alarming because they can’t see what it is and perceive it as a threat. Many parakeet owners cover their parakeets at night to help reduce these night frights.  You can also avoid nighttime issues by providing your parakeets with night lights. Another tip related to poor sight at night time is to never make changes in their cage layout or add new toys/perches right before bed time. Things that sort of freaked them out during the day may seem absolutely terrifying at night, and could cause them to panic.

Hopefully these facts and hacks will help you better understand some of what’s going on with your parakeet’s incredible eyes!  Coming soon, perhaps not surprisingly, a series of posts dedicated to the other senses.

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Making a hanging bath for your parakeet

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Recently I realized that I keep writing about and recommending trying a bath of hanging greens for parakeets without actually giving instructions for how to make the bath.  I know for my husband and me there was definitely some trial and error involved, and the errors could involve some parakeet injury, so here are some best practices for making a hanging bath.

  • At the grocery store, get a bunch of greens and a package of bamboo skewers (commonly used for grilling, like these: Kabob skewers PACK of 500 8 inch bamboo sticks made from 100 % natural bamboo – shish kabob skewers – (500)). As far as the greens go, what you really want is a good sturdy leaf that will stand up to some abuse without tearing immediately. Equally important is the stem width, they have to be thick and not prone to shredding. We really love kale for baths, and also mustard greens.
  • Once home, wash the greens thoroughly
  • Take a stem and poke a hole through the thickest part with the bamboo skewer, repeat this process for 4 or 5 leaves, until you have a good bundle of greens.
  • Thread the leaves on whatever attachment you have handy, we are using one that came from an inexpensive toy (JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy, Colors Vary). You could also use paper rope (Outus Raffia Paper Craft Ribbon, 1/ 4 Inch by 100 Yards) and tie it securely to a spare metal toy clip, or a plastic clip. Whatever you have that you can hang will be fine.
  • Wet the bundle of greens thoroughly – get them soaking and be prepared to soak the bottom interior of your cage. If you use paper at the bottom that is not water resistant it would be best to remove that entirely to make for easier clean up at the end.
  • Hang the bundle from the interior top of your cage; if possible, position is near some perches for a jumping off point. Hopefully your parakeets will instinctively “get it”, but if not, don’t be discouraged, just keep offering the greens and they will probably explore them eventually. I also try to leave the greens in the cage for a couple of hours and will refresh them with a spray bottle.
  • Parakeets are definitely fans of a routine, so try to offer a bath in the same sequence each week. We get home from the grocery store, put everything away and then it’s bath time. I find that a series of steps that are done in front of them the same way every time helps them know what to expect and really aids in getting them excited.

And finally, here is Toby enjoying her bath, this is not as “into it” as she typically gets, I think she was being a little camera shy, but you can see how it’s suspended and how she moves around the bundle in a way that she couldn’t if it was laying on a flat surface.

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Carrying a piece of your parakeet with you

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If you’re anything like me every time your budgies molt you scurry around after them collecting all their gorgeous dropped feathers.  I have managed to talk myself into only keeping the “best” specimens, but I still ended up with a sandwich baggie of feathers and no idea what to do with them.

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Lots of folks out there are craftier than me, I’ve seen people keeping adorable country chic mason jars full of feathers (one for each parakeet!), as well as making earrings, or even crafting a woven bowl and using the feathers as embellishments.  But, even though I actually have a surplus of mason jars that my husband bought on a whim (such are the dangers of late night online shopping) I haven’t gotten around to sorting out my baggie of feathers and getting down to business.

I did, however, have an idea that the feathers would look beautiful in a glass locket necklace, so I set a course across the internet to find my new dream piece of jewelry.

First, I found a site called Custom Made that literally boasts you can have anything made, you fill out a form detailing what you’d like and then, theoretically, they match you with an artisan who makes your dreams come to life.  Not so much in reality, they got back to me fairly quickly and indicated that not only would they not allow me to send any of my own materials (feathers) but they also don’t make jewelry with moving parts AND they don’t make jewelry with glass.  At the time I wasn’t even thinking of moving parts, more of the feathers being fixed in place permanently between glass, sort of like a specimen slide, but that’s neither here nor there.

Next stop was Etsy, because everything is on Etsy.  I found a shop called Sora Designs and a glass locket that I could fill myself.  I loved that there were a bunch of different options for the shape and the metal composition of the locket, also great is that you can choose your chain length and the chain is included.

I opted for the sterling silver oval with scalloped edges and was delighted by the fast shipping and lovely packaging.

Owing to my non-craftiness, I enlisted my husband’s help by throwing the baggie and locket at him and saying “make it work” a la Tim Gunn.  After about an hour, some swearing, and some very delicate artistry (I’m pretty sure there were manicure scissors and tweezers involved) he presented me with this

I completely love seeing the beautiful feathers from both of my parakeets together in what looks so much like a miniature watercolor work of art. The interior of the locket does have a small amount of depth, which allowed for the creation of a layered effect. I like that the piece is substantial, but comfortable to wear, not too heavy. It’s also comforting to rub the locket, sort of like a worry stone, although with a lot greater risk of smudges!

A few days of wearing this at the office garnered loads of compliments, people couldn’t believe that those were actually feathers from my parakeets.

This necklace is a great gift idea for any bird owner hoarding baggies of feathers, or even for those craftier parronts among us, it’s not like there’s ever a lack of falling feathers!  Additionally, this would be a very thoughtful memorial piece for a parakeet that flew over the rainbow bridge.  And of course in my opinion it’s also always a good time to buy oneself a gift “just because”.

Please note this is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated in any way for my opinions.

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What do you do if the lights suddenly go out?

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It was a Sunday evening in February, about 5:30pm. The budgies were enjoying their last half hour of time outside the cage, all the curtains were shut for their safety, since it was pitch dark outside.  My husband and I were watching tv when I got a text from our local police department, warning of potential localized power outages due to fire department activity involving a transformer. I immediately felt a surge of panic, if the lights went out, how in the world would I get the parakeets home safely?

We sprang into action and they were fortunately cooperative about going right to their cage.  We never ended up losing power, but it left me wondering: if there’s a blackout how will they deal with complete dark? They are used to at least having night lights on at all times to help combat the possibility of night frights.

I’ve always wanted to get a whole house generator like the Generac Guardian 7030 16 Circuit LC NEMA3 Aluminium Enclosure 9/8kW Air Cooled Standby Generator, but at that price point it’s a major investment, and I knew I needed to figure something out for the short term possibilities.

Particularly since, and this is a bit embarrassing, I know that we have flashlights, but I couldn’t tell you where they are, or whether the batteries are good. So – if the power goes out we’d be stumbling around with just the light of our smart phones, which is clearly the start of a horror movie.  Add a couple of panicked parakeets into the mix and I think you’re in for something potentially gory.

To avoid any Saw-like outcomes I went online and started looking for something I could have on deck for sudden power loss. I found the The American Red Cross Blackout Buddy the emergency LED flashlight, blackout alert and nightlight, pack of 2, ARCBB200W-DBL and at about $14 it was a lot easier on the wallet than the big generator.

These emergency flashlights have recharging batteries and three modes, the first is nightlight mode, the second is flashlight mode and the third is emergency mode. When the power goes out the flashlight senses the interruption in power and turns on as an emergency light.

A few things I really like about this product are that the plug is intelligently placed so the flashlight can be plugged into the bottom outlet without covering the top. Also, the plug can be folded into the back of the flashlight to make it comfortable to carry around.  The lights are nice and bright too, which you’d want in an emergency.

The major downside to this product is that it has a very strong plastic smell. A few of the reviews note that it dissipates after a few days, but we’ve had ours for a couple of weeks and they are still quite fragrant.  Of course this means they are quarantined in the hallway with everything else that has to off-gas before coming into the house proper. They are currently not doing us very much good. I don’t think the smell would be as big an issue in most households, we just happen to have some serious restrictions in place.

Even with the downside I do recommend this light, particularly since your budgies probably like a nightlight anyway, this kills several birds with one stone. Or, rather, renders the birds safe from killing… (ha! probably should have had a dad joke warning there)

I still worry, even though I can go grab my emergency flashlight from the hallway in a pinch, what would it be like if we had a major power outage? Particularly in winter, I don’t have a secondary source of heat beyond our gas furnace and the parakeets won’t tolerate a rapidly dropping temperature very well. My short term plan would be to corral them into their travel carrier (Prevue Pet Products Travel Cage for Birds and Small Animals, Green) and put a fleece blanket over it to conserve their body heat. If we were going to have a longer outage then I guess we’d have to decamp to my mom’s house (that’s your heads up mom!), where there is a generator.

We’ve been lucky lately, in the past several years I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve lost power. Even in those instances it was for no more than half an hour. But, I do want to prepare for the inevitability of disaster (not being dramatic at all) and the emergency lights feel like a good first step.

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